If you haven’t heard yet, Google is moving into the car business. In fact, their new tool Google Cars (which was clearly named by the engineering department) has already been tested in San Francisco and according to Automotive News is close to a statewide rollout in California.
For established online classified sites such as Autotrader.com, Cars.com, Edmunds.com, or KBB.com, Google Cars could prove to be a serious headache. I would not have wanted to work at Yelp.com the day Google announced third-party reviews would no longer be shown in their review lists…What I’m more interested in, however, is how it will effect dealerships themselves.
Google Cars is still in beta, and only time will tell whether or not it will benefit car dealers. But you can already check it out for yourself by visiting www.google.com/cars. Obviously, unless you’re in the Bay Area, there won’t be any vehicles in your area, but you will be able to check out the service and see how it works.
There is nothing very groundbreaking about Google Cars. Consumers can go to their site and choose the vehicle make, model, and year they’re interested in, as well as other characteristics like color, body style, and trim level. Then Google returns a list of available vehicles—we’ve seen this show before. What is different about Google Cars from most of the other online classified providers is that it allows consumers to create anonymous email addresses and phone numbers to contact the dealership. These email addresses and phone numbers will only work for a limited time, severely limiting the amount of useful information dealers receive about a lead, which makes collecting contact information from leads more important than ever.
Other classified sites, such as Craigslist, have offered this kind of anonymity before, but this is the first time it has been combined with easily sortable search results—and if there’s one thing Google does well, it’s search results! It remains to be seen whether consumers will embrace the anonymity Google Cars will provide, but with all the talk of privacy in the ether, it’s a good bet they will.
Dealers are very familiar with Google and it has become an integral part of the way dealerships find customers. After all Google is where 90 percent of consumers start their vehicle search and it accounts for over two-thirds of dealership website visits. How this will change is still unclear, but it is essential that dealers monitor their web traffic as Google Cars spreads throughout the country.
One thing that Google will not be doing with their new tool is writing content such as reviews and new model news, about the vehicles. That content will come from third-party sites—your website, for example—so stepping up your content marketing could be a good way to keep your dealership on top of the search results after Google Cars lands on the auto industry.
I say it could be a good way, because Google is very cagey about what its final plans are. Google reviews started out by aggregating content from review sites like Yelp and Urbanspoon, but now they only display results from Zagat (which Google acquired in 2011). Don’t be surprised if they have similar plans for the automotive industry.
Michael Bowen is the Editor in Chief of Dealer Marketing Magazine. To contact him, please email [email protected].0